President Joe Biden is committed to raising the minimum wage after a Senate rules expert declared the provision ineligible for the current form of the latest COVID-19 relief package, his press secretary said.
“He can’t do it on his own, but he is absolutely committed to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Feb. 28.
“He thinks it’s long overdue. He believes that men and women who are working hard, trying to make ends meet, should have—should not be living at the poverty level. And we’re going to spend the next few days and weeks looking for the best path forward, working with Democrats and Republicans, hopefully, to do exactly that.”
Congressional Democrats, with Biden’s backing, are pushing his relief bill through both chambers with no apparent Republican support by utilizing a budget process that’s been used for various proposals in the past.
Budget reconciliation requires a simple majority in the Senate, as opposed to the normal 60-vote threshold. That enables Democrats to pass it with no Republican votes, as they hold 50 seats and the tiebreaking vote that the vice president can cast.
But the body’s chief parliamentarian ruled last week that a minimum wage hike couldn’t be included in the bill because of rules governing the budget process. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) kept the provision in the version the chamber later passed, but the White House has said Vice President Kamala Harris, the president of the Senate, will not try to overrule the rules expert.
Senate Democrats are now working on alternatives, including a penalty on large corporations that don’t pay their workers a certain amount.
Psaki said the White House hasn’t yet reviewed a proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would both penalize corporations and give incentives to small businesses to pay their workers more.
“The president supports exactly what Sen. Sanders does, which is increasing the minimum wage for the American people, for workers who are just trying to make ends meet,” she said. “We’re going to have to spend the next several days or even weeks figuring out what the best path forward is, but he’s committed to doing that.”
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. It was last raised in 2009. But 27 states have higher minimum wages. If states have a higher wage floor than the federal minimum wage, then employees are entitled to the higher of the two.
Even before the parliamentarian ruled against including the wage in the new package, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) signaled that he didn’t want it increased so much, putting the provision in peril. He proposed increasing it to $11 across two years.
Republicans have argued that the hike doesn’t belong in a relief package and should be dealt with separately. Two GOP senators recently introduced a bill that would increase the wage to $10 an hour by 2025 while another announced legislation that would force big companies to pay their workers at least $15 an hour.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Feb. 28 said the relief package includes a number of measures that have nothing to do with relief.
“There’s $100 million for an underground transit system in the Silicon Valley. There’s a bridge in New York. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars for the arts and so on. There are things that have nothing to do with COVID that are unrelated. Minimum wage was one, of course,” he said.
But Democrats have said it’s related to helping people amid the pandemic.
“I basically support raising the minimum wage in the COVID bill because that is a huge part of economic recovery,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said. “The people who are suffering most from the minimum wage and what’s happening in the pandemic are the essential workers, many of them are women, and many of them are getting paid very low wages.”
Psaki was speaking during appearances on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN’s “State of the Union.” Portman and Hirono appeared on ABC’s “This Week.”